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The Ones Left Waiting
Author's note: My mother inspired me to write this story. She worked as a chemo nurse and would often come home in tears because of all the sad stories. I wrote this story to give a voice to the people close to the patient and to gain a deeper understanding of the mental suffering they endure.
When I found out that Jackie had a brain tumor, I couldn’t believe it. Jackie was too good, too pure… Something this catastrophic could not happen to her. She hadn’t been feeling well lately, continuously getting headaches, but she was brushing it off. That was until October when she had a seizure in the middle of Science class. Jackie was rushed straight to the ER and the news wasn’t good. After a CT- scan, a MRI, and a PET-scan, the doctors diagnosed her with a cerebral butterfly tumor in the left side of her brain.
We were all crushed. Daniel, my best friend and Jackie’s twin brother, freaked out the day we were told. Everyone loved Jackie. But I loved her in a different way. Jackie was my girlfriend, and I’ll tell you something for nothing, I loved her more than anything else. Daniel and I had been friends since the first day of kindergarten, but it wasn’t until we were about sixteen that I started noticing Jackie and my visits to their house were primarily to see her. Then it took me a year and a half to work up the nerve to ask her out.
It turns out; she’d liked me for years. So we had a perfect four months, and I fell in love with her a little bit more with every passing day. But then she went to the hospital and everything changed.
Jackie’s tumor was on the left side of her brain. She had originally joked about it, saying she was a right-brain anyway, but I could tell she was terrified. Our entire town community was worried about her. Jackie was the town hero for the swim team. Her moment of glory was winning the state championship for our school. That was also the site of our very first kiss. I’ll never forget it. Jackie climbed out of the water, grinning in triumph. I jumped out of the stands and, before I could properly think of what I planned on doing, enveloped her in my arms.
Our moment was ruined when Daniel came over and pushed us into the pool and then jumped in himself. I can still hear him yelling to the crowd,
“It’s about time that happened!”
Everyone we knew came to visit her at some point. We all loved her. It was impossible not to.
On this particular day, I was on my way to the hospital where Jackie was getting a chemo treatment. Daniel was in the passenger seat, nervously drumming his fingers on the arm rest. Jackie’s illness had hit him especially hard. Well, they are twins. I cannot imagine having a twin with cancer. I imagine it would be like a part of me sick. Daniel glanced at me.
“I wonder how she’s doing.” He commented.
I gave a non-committal grunt in reply, my eyes on the road.
“She’ll be fine right?” Daniel asked.
“Dude, calm down.” I muttered.
“It’s just chemo. She’s done it plenty of times before. You’re making me nervous. Just chill.”
He suddenly punched the arm rest, and his blue eyes, so like Jackie’s, glimmered with unshed tears.
“Why Jackie? Why my sister? Who did this to her?”
“I don’t know Daniel.” I said tiredly.
“Because if I did, I go and probably kill them.”
He deflated, the tension leaving his shoulders.
“Look, I’m sorry, Firth. I know you love her as much as I do.”
“More.” I thought to myself.
To fill the silence, I switched on the radio. Jackie’s CD, custom made by me, came on. Her favorite song, Sweet Caroline, started and I grinned. We’d sing along to this song like idiots every time we heard it. I caught Daniel’s eye and he couldn’t help but smile. These definitely weren’t the good times, but happy moments, so rare in coming, were enjoyed all the more because of it.
We pulled up at the cancer center and went straight in. All of the nurses knew us by now, and they let us go right to Jackie. Nurse Katie winked at us as we passed.
“Having a good day, boys?”
We managed to nod and hurried to the children’s floor.
Jackie sat in a chair, dozing. Her parents sat on either side of her, listening intently to Dr. Hatt. I went and stood by Jackie. Her eyes fluttered open and she grinned up at me.
I stroked her cheek gently and leaned in for a chaste kiss.
The doctor cleared her throat and I pulled back, embarrassed.
“No need to apologize. I was just telling Mr. And Mrs. Bianco that there are other treatments available to Jackie-“
“What other treatments?” Jackie asked instantly. She hated chemotherapy. Jackie wasn’t vain, but she sobbed pitifully when her hair fell out. I immediately went out and bought her a bandana for every day of the week.
Dr. Hatt continued,
“An operation to excise the tumor is possible.”
Jackie was nodding thoughtfully, but her parents jumped.
“But, what are the survival rates?” Mrs. Bianco asked, voice wavering.
“There is a 35% survival rate.” The doctor replied.
Daniel rounded on her then,
“So, now she’s a statistic? How many of these have you done that have been successful?”
“Daniel. Please.” Jackie said, sounding pained.
“I’m just worried about her, that’s all.” He muttered, looking at his beat-up Pumas.
“You are right in your worry, Daniel. But I have personally performed ten of these operations and eight have succeeded.”
We stayed silent for a few moments and the kindly neurosurgeon squeezed Jackie’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Just think it over. Take all the time you need.”
Mrs. Bianco stood up.
“Well, that doesn’t seem like something we’d be interested in-“
“No,” Jackie said suddenly.
“I want to get my life back. I want to able go to school without needing to go home by third period. I want to able to go out with my boyfriend. And most of all, I want this stupid tumor out of my head. And if this is the only way, then I want to go for it!”
Jackie’s parents looked troubled.
“Jackie, darling, you’re only seventeen. You don’t know what’s best for you.” Her father said.
“I’m turning 18 next month. If you don’t let me, I’ll be an adult by March 3. So I can my own decisions by then.” Jackie said firmly.
“We’ll talk about this later.” Mrs. Bianco said, standing up.
“I’m going to get lunch? Do you want anything?”
We shook our heads and her parents left.
Daniel and I sat back down beside by Jackie.
“Are you sure about this, Jac?” Daniel asked.
I took her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. Jackie looked up at me and gave me a small smile in return. Suddenly, Jackie’s best friend, Mia, arrived in the room.
“Jackie!” she half-screamed, throwing herself down for a hug.
“All right. That’s enough. Don’t hurt her.” Daniel said, hauling Mia up.
“Okay, cretin.” Mia said cheerfully, tossing her book bag into his arms.
Daniel and Mia hated each other. They always had. The only reason they put up with each other was because they both loved Jackie so much. I didn’t mind Mia. She could be a bit over the top, but she made Jackie happy, so what did I care?
Jackie reached for Mia’s hair longingly. She was dreadfully envious of Mia’s long auburn locks and brushed them whenever she got the chance.
“May I?” Jackie asked eagerly,
“Knock yourself out.” Mia replied, tossing her a hairbrush.
So while Mia got her hair done, we filled her in about the operation. She shook her head doubtfully.
“I don’t know Jackie. It sounds pretty risky.”
Daniel threw his hands up into the air.
“Thank you! Somebody agrees with me.”
“And it’s surprising that it’s Mia.” I muttered in Jackie’s ear.
She grinned up at me and then addressed Mia.
“What happened to my wild child Mia?”
“I’m no wild child when it comes to your life, hon.”
“That’s the thing. It’s my life.”
I stared at her. Did she really not understand how deeply this affected all of us? Could she not know that I stay up half the night, every night, worrying about her and forcing myself to not call? That Daniel talked to a priest on a weekly basis just to keep it together? And how Mia had made Jackie the town poster child?
She felt my stare.
“What about you, Firth?” Jackie asked quietly.
“How do you feel about this?”
“I don’t like it, Jackie. But-“
She groaned and flopped back in her chair, covering her face with her hands.
“Does no one support me on this?”
I held my hands up in defense.
“I said but.” I reminded her gently.
“Carry on.” Jackie said from behind her hands.
“But, if you think it’s for the best, I’m fully behind you.”
“Thank you.” She said gratefully.
I leaned down and kissed her. She threw her arms around my neck and pulled me closer. Daniel and Mia laughed.
“Don’t mind us.” Mia said.
“Shut up.” Jackie said good-naturedly, kissing me again. She pulled back and stood up.
“Come on. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
Days turned into weeks and before I knew it, it was Jackie and Daniel’s 18th birthday. They weren’t having a party. Jackie didn’t feel up to one, and if Jackie wasn’t, Daniel wasn’t either. So it was just them, Firth and me for a quiet gathering in their living room.
I arrived late, per usual, and then the presents were opened. Firth’s gift was first. Jackie opened the box and silence enveloped the room.
“Oh. My. God.” Jackie breathed.
“FIRTH!’ she screamed, throwing herself on top of him.
“Come on, we’re dying in suspense over here!” Daniel called.
Jackie leaned up and took out a necklace out of its box. It was a beautiful gold chain with a heart pendant with a diamond in its center. Even in the fading light, it sparkled.
“All my love, Firth.” Jackie said, reading the engraving on the back.
“Oh, Firth. You really shouldn’t have.” Jackie berated him lovingly.
“I wanted to.” Firth said gently.
He fastened it around her neck and Jackie grinned adoringly up at him. I observed them, smiling at their happiness. Firth adored Jackie. It was completely obvious. That necklace was the real deal. It must have cost him a ton. But he didn’t care. He would do anything to make Jackie happy. I felt a sudden longing for what they had together.
Daniel cleared his throat.
“Well, I don’t know if I can live up to that, but I hope you like it anyway.”
The twins exchanged gifts. Daniel got a warm rugby jersey from Jackie, and also a pack of “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans” We all burst out laughing when we saw this. When we were twelve, Daniel was convinced that they didn’t exist. So Jackie and I set out to prove him wrong. We bought him loads of packets. Then that turned into a full-fledged jelly bean war between us and the boys.
From Daniel, Jackie received a cashmere scarf and a giant stuffed elephant nearly as big as she was.
“Daniel, I love him!” she squealed, clutching the stuffed animal.
“My turn!” I exclaimed, handing her my present.
Jackie tore the lid off and I watched her reaction to my gift with bated breath. Would she like it?
Jackie pressed a shaking hand to her mouth and ripped of my hat, revealing my hair now cropped to my chin.
“Oh Mia!” Jackie cried.
‘How could you? You love your hair.”
“I love you more.” I said, hugging her.
“I don’t understand.” Daniel asked, perplexed.
“What did she do?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I cut my hair.”
“That’s not all!” Jackie exclaimed.
“She turned it into a wig.”
Jackie burst into tears and I looked at her, alarmed.
“Do you not like it?”
“No! I love it! I just can’t believe I have a friend like you. But Mia- your lovely hair!”
“Hair grows back. And besides, I needed a change. I was sick of it being long. Now, put it on!”
Jackie untied her bandana and compliantly put the wig on her head.
“You might get called a ginger. And we can dye your blonde eyebrows red if you want.”
Jackie grinned through her tears and opened her arms.
“Come here, all of you.”
We joined together for a group hug, Jackie in the center.
“This has been the best birthday ever.” She said happily.
“I love you all.”
Daniel interrupted this tender moment by grabbing a handful of cake and throwing it straight into Firth’s face.
“Cake fight!” he screamed.
“Oh, you are so dead!’ Firth retorted, lunging for Daniel.
Jackie and I shrieked and dove for cover, but we ended up getting spattered too. So, naturally, we joined in and the most epic cake battle this world has ever seen commenced.
After the party, I approached Mia in the hallway.
“This is going to take some getting used to.” I said, ruffling her shorn hair.
“I don’t need you to like it.” She retorted curtly.
I stopped joking.
“Seriously, that meant a lot to her. And to me. So I want to thank you.”
I stuck out my hand and she shook it.
I turned to go. At the last second, I turned back around.
“You know, you look really hot with your hair like that.”
Then I ran away before she could kill me.
Firth stayed in my room that night. We laid in comfortable silence until I spoke,
“You really do love her, huh?”
“I really do.” He said quietly.
“Good. Because if you were just leading her on because she’s sick, I would have to kill you.”
“I’d expect nothing less.”
I glanced down at him. With his pitch black hair, he practically blended in with the darkness of the room. He’s the exact opposite of me. I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and have a decent tan. Firth, however, has dark blue eyes, is as pale as a ghost, and the aforementioned black hair. We’re complete opposites in personality too. Firth is a very laid-back, calm, and gentle person. Whereas I’m- well- I’m not that at all. It‘s amazing that we’re best friends, but there you have it. Ever since the first day of kindergarten, in fact. He was a tall boy that was frightened of practically everything, especially other people. I was drawn to this quiet guy that never, ever got in trouble.
So, there we were, thirteen years later. He glanced up at me and raised an eyebrow.
“What?” he asked curiously.
“Liar.” He said with a grin.
“Look- I’m happy you’re with Jackie. That’s all.”
He smiled and whacked me with his pillow.
“Aww Daniel. You’re making me blush.” He joked.
I laughed and whacked him straight back.
When I woke up the next morning, Firth was gone. With Jackie, no doubt. I shrugged on a shirt and headed downstairs.
Jackie and Firth were in the kitchen, unsuccessfully trying to make pancakes. Batter covered the counter and some even made it onto the wall. But I knew my parents wouldn’t care. Ever since Jackie got sick, they stopped bothering about petty things like messes and concentrated on making sure Jackie was enjoying herself.
And she was. Her wig was askew on her head, Firth’s pendant was around her neck and my scarf was wound around her waist. She was giggling uncontrollably and I felt my throat constrict. She reminded me so much of the healthy girl she used to be, vibrant and full of life.
Jackie caught sight of me and smirked mischievously.
“Daniel.” She called in a sing-song voice.
She tossed a misshapen pancake in my direction. I caught it with mouth and bowed.
“Bravo!” Jackie cried.
But the cheerful mood didn’t last long. Jackie brought up going to the hospital and getting more information about the operation.
“I don’t think it’s safe.” I said uneasily.
“I want to do it.” Jackie said, jaw set in the same determined way I’d seen so many times growing up.
“But Jackie,” I explained,
“I’ve done some research. You have a butterfly tumor, which is most often inoperable. If they decided to operate, your chances of survival aren’t very good. You- You could die on the table, or fall into a coma. A million things could go wrong!”
“Daniel, consider this. If I don’t have this operation, what happens? I die in three months. I might as well take my best shot. This could actually be an easier way. At least it would be quick and painless.”
In the heat of our discussion, I didn’t notice Firth getting increasingly angrier and angrier as more words were exchanged. Upon hearing Jackie’s last statement, he snapped.
“Don’t talk like that, Jackie!” he exclaimed, standing up from the table.
“You can’t say things like that.”
“It’s the truth, Firth.” Jackie said softly, reaching for his hand.
Firth flinched away, out of her reach.
“You don’t have to say it though!”
“Firth-“Jackie said imploringly.
Firth shot her a look and his stony blue eyes made Jackie gasp softly.
“I’ve got to go.” He said coldly, reaching for his jacket.
“Thank you for having me to stay.”
Firth strode out and Jackie hurried after him, tears coursing down her cheeks.
Mia came down the stairs.
“What’s with all the shouting?” she asked, blearily rubbing her eyes.
Jackie clung to the doorframe, shoulders shaking, and Mia stared at me, bewildered,
“What the hell happened?”
I didn’t answer. Naturally, I wanted to kill Firth. He might be my oldest friend, but when it came to Jackie, I’d whack him into Timbuktu.
Which is what I planned on doing. I ran to the front door and pulled it open.
“Don’t!” Jackie said, holding me back.
“Don’t hurt him!”
I deflated and shut the door.
“Come on Jackie.” I wheedled.
“He deserves it!”
She shook her head tiredly.
“Don’t bother, Daniel. Please.’
I wriggled out of her grasp and headed back to the kitchen. Grabbing a stray pancake, I threw it on a plate and prepared to start another day.